Has Jonathan Bernier Won the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2013-14 Goalie Battle?

James OnuskoContributor IIIFebruary 2, 2014

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 25:  James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates past teammate Jonathan Bernier #45 after being pulled in the third period during NHL game action against the Columbus Blue Jackets November 25, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
Graig Abel/Getty Images

Without Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs would likely be battling the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres for last place in the NHL.

Both goalies have won games single-handedly this season. A chronic issue for the Leafs has been being badly outshot, and at times, they have been outplayed in games with both of these netminders bailing the team out.

What is clear, is that if Randy Carlyle has a master plan, he's not interested in sharing it with the media. That is his right, and the logic of not wanting to share too much with the media, and therefore your opponents, is a sound stance.

Neither Bernier nor Reimer seems upset about the battle and the fact that a de facto starter has not been named. There have been no public outbursts and no media coverage of any friction between the two young goaltenders.

I would argue that the Leafs have benefited from the healthy competition as both goalies are obviously striving to do their best and understand that, if they falter, the other one is likely to start the next game.

Without a third NHL-calibre netminder in the system, and with the Leafs up against the cap limit, they can also be reasonably confident that their job as either No. 1 or No. 1a is relatively safe. 

In terms of the numbers, Bernier has begun to separate himself from Reimer. Here are the key stats to date:

Bernier versus Reimer By the Numbers
PlayerSave %G.A.A.Saves Per GameWins

It seems clear that Carlyle has seen more consistency from Bernier than Reimer to date. The two goalies do have quite different styles with Bernier much "quieter" in the net than Reimer.

Bernier certainly seems to be in position more often, and his rebound control is superior at this stage of their careers. However, Reimer does not quit on any play.

It's not to say that Bernier does, but Reimer certainly scrambles more than Bernier which is partly due to being out of position to begin with.

The two key numbers are save percentage and saves per game. Bernier is not only saving a significantly higher percentage of shots on goal, but he's also seeing more shots per game.

It is difficult to quantify, but the Leafs do appear to play with more confidence with Bernier between the pipes. That is pure conjecture and nothing more than passing the eye test. But Bernier has a calmness to his game that seems to induce more confidence in his teammates, many of whom are still learning the pro game.

For the time being, it seems obvious that Bernier has won the battle to be the Leafs' No. 1 goaltender. He's winning games at a higher rate, and his numbers are clearly better. He should start the majority of games as long as he maintains this high level of play.

Should this be permanent? Absolutely not. Both of these goalies have relatively few starts at the NHL level, and neither has proven they can sustain these numbers over an entire season.

Leafs fans should enjoy this tandem and quit focusing on which one should be traded. The majority of strong NHL teams have a good tandem, and with no one waiting in the wings, it would seem foolhardy to deal Reimer at this juncture.